Guest Blogger Request

Note: This is a post I made on a couple of atrial fibrillation Facebook groups – specifically:

Healthy Hearties

and I’m including it here in the hopes that readers will be inspired to write and share. Thanks!

Joey and I hiking on the nearby Pacific Crest Trail

I write and maintain A Fib Runner (afibrunner.com) – a blog about atrial fibrillation and trail running, ultra running, mountain biking, and other endurance sports. Studies have shown that atrial fibrillation is much more common in middle-aged athletes than in non-athletic individuals of the same age – doesn’t seem fair, does it? I’m a marathoner, ultra-marathoner, hiker, mountain biker with permanent atrial fibrillation – and I blog about it.

I would like to request guest bloggers to submit articles. I’ve written a lot about *my* experience; but your experience is going to be unique and will be of great interest to readers of the blog. At this point I have had several people send me articles and they have been very popular – some of the most popular articles on my blog.

So here’s how it works: if you’d like to submit and article let me know via comment or message. I’ll send you my email and we can get started. If writing intimidates you that’s fine – just right it in your own voice, like you are writing a letter to a friend.

If you want to use your full name – great! A lot of athletes with atrial fibrillation come from a generation that values privacy a little more than millennials – that’s fine. My 58 year old life is an open book, but maybe yours isn’t – a first name or even a pseudonym is fine. I’ll edit the article for spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc., and send you a revised copy (if there any revisions) for your approval.

If you’d like to send photos I’ll let you know how I do that. Blogs need photos – but if you have none to share I will provide appropriate photos.

The article should be about your experience and NOT about giving medical advice. Personally, I try very hard to write as an A Fib Runner and not as a health care provider. If you are a cardiologist, or other type of health care provider, and would really like to make suggestions we can discuss that. Clearly there are some real liability issues with giving medical advice over the internet.

Any topic involving atrial fibrillation is appreciated, and I especially would like to hear from people who have had various treatments like ablation, a watchman device, or an Atriclip, as well as the various medications that you’ve used for atrial fibrillation. How did you find out you had a fib? What did it feel like? What is your emotional reaction to a fib? What is your psychological response to the new normal of a fib? What was your cardio version like? What are your triggers? What things did you change after the diagnosis was made? Did a fib destroy you or did it strengthen you?

And so on.

Please let me know – THANKS!

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Reversal Agent for Eliquis and Xarelto Receives FDA “Fast-track” Approval

 

This is great news for people with atrial fibrillation (AF) who take the newer anticoagulants Eliquis or Xarelto. According to a recent article in Cardiology News the FDA, in early May 2018, approved Andexxa (Portola Pharmaceuticals), the first reversal agent for the popular newer anticoagulants Eliquis and Xarelto.

I think runners and mountain bikers, correctly, worry about problems with excessive bleeding while on anticoagulants because we are certainly at increased risk of falls or of being hit by a car, and many have hesitated to transition from warfarin (Coumadin) because of the lack of a reliable reversal agent.

Pradaxa (dabigatran) and warfarin both already have reversal available reversal agents.

Andexxa acts as a decoy molecule and essentially binds to the drug preventing it from interacting with clotting factors.

Terrific news, right?

According to drugs.com “In the U.S. alone in 2016, there were approximately 117,000 hospital admissions attributable to Factor Xa inhibitor-related bleeding and nearly 2,000 bleeding-related deaths per month.” 

But wait – there’s catch!

Andexxa has been approved but as the writing of this blog post (May 23, 2018) it is not yet available. It exists, but you can’t get it!

I called one of the pharmacists at our hospital (Sky Lakes Medical Center) and asked if it was going to be readily available at our hospital – that’s when I discovered that it wasn’t yet being distributed – but she told me that our hospital plans to have it in stock and available for use.

She also said that once Andexxa is actually available our hospital would then develop guidelines for usage of the new drug. These have not yet been declared but she expects that it will be similar for guidelines pertaining to the reversal agents for Pradaxa and warfarin which are 1.) Patients with serious, life threatening bleeding and 2.) Patients who need emergency surgery.

I think that means that people having elective surgery (like a knee replacement) will not be eligible and will have to taper off their anticoagulant and bridge with Lovenox, just like they do now. I imagine that emergency surgery refers to surgery that is necessary to save your life, not necessarily surgeries like fracture repair, where it would be possible to wait a few days.

As far as my personal experience – I take warfarin and don’t intend to change. I had taken Pradaxa for several years and was very happy with it until I had a mini-stroke and a trans-esophageal echocardiogram revealed that I had a blood clot in my left atrium.

The next big question, of course, is how much will Andexxa cost? I have no idea and I can’t find any information about cost – but I’m guessing it will be really expensive. But then again – people who are anti coagulated and have life threatening bleeding or need emergency life-saving surgery can just go ahead and get Andexxa and worry about how to pay for it later.

 

Any comments are appreciated! Thanks for reading.

Is Digoxin a Good Choice for Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation?

Is Digoxin a Good Choice for Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation? I want to make it clear, once again, that I am writing this blog as an endurance athlete dealing with atrial fibrillation (AF) – not as a clinician. I’m not a cardiologist or a primary care physician. I’m simply posing a question and not answering it. It is important for you to be in agreement with your cardiologist and primary care provider about your treatment plan Whatever you do – DON’T STOP TAKING ANY MEDICATION YOU HAVE BEEN PRESCRIBED BECAUSE YOU READ ABOUT SIDE EFFECTS ON SOME GUY’S BLOG!

Also – full disclosure – I take a low dose of digoxin.

Digoxin is the generic name for Lanoxin which has been actually been used for hundreds of years as an herbal preparation (Digitalis) from the foxglove plant, seen above, which is a lovely plant, don’t you think?

Digoxin is used to treat atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and heart failure. My cardiologist told me that many of the younger cardiologists don’t generally even prescribe it any longer.

Digoxin has a narrow therapeutic index, which means that at too low of a dose it isn’t very effective and at higher doses it is toxic. Because of this it has many side effects. It is unknown whether digoxin is safe during pregnancy. Digoxin works by improving heart function by strengthening the contractions and slowing the heart rate.

A 2018 paper published Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that digoxin increased mortality in patients with atrial fibrillation regardless of heart failure.

Conclusions In patients with AF taking digoxin, the risk of death was independently related to serum digoxin concentration and was highest in patients with concentrations ≥1.2 ng/ml. Initiating digoxin was independently associated with higher mortality in patients with AF, regardless of heart failure.

Yikes!

Also consider that several of the authors of the study disclosed that they had financial ties to pharma and medical device companies, including pharmaceutical giants Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Pfizer who funded the study.

But look! Runners and other endurance athletes need to ask their cardiologists about digoxin toxicity because both dehydration and low magnesium increase the chance of toxicity. Who among us hasn’t been dehydrated?

I’m going to be asking my cardiologist more questions about digoxin next time I see her. As I mentioned I take a small dose and when we did lab work my digoxin level was low, below the therapeutic window, which she said was fine – she just wanted to make sire it wasn’t too high. Me too!

I’d love to see your comments!

Dehydrated Trail Runner – me!

Coffee and Atrial Fibrillation – Update

A couple of years ago I posted an article on this block entitled Does Drinking Coffee Cause Atrial Fibrillation?   

It had been determined that drinking coffee, even in fairly large amounts, did not increase the risk of an individual going into atrial fibrillation.

 

In their analysis, the researchers found that coffee consumption was not associated with AF incidence, even in more extreme levels of coffee consumption.

 

The article went on to state that while drinking coffee does not cause atrial fibrillation individuals who have no history of atrial fibrillation, it was thought that coffee may be related to recurrence of atrial fibrillation and individuals who have the arrhythmia intermittently:

 

“These findings indicate that coffee consumption does not cause atrial fibrillation,” Larsson says. “However, high coffee consumption may still trigger arrhythmia in patients who already have atrial fibrillation.”

 

 

It was stated that more research was necessary. 

A recent, widely reported Australian study, a very large review of existing studies, determined that coffee is likely safe for people with atrial fibrillation.

 

“Although coffee increases your heart rate, it does not make it abnormal,” explained senior researcher Dr. Peter Kistler.  . . . “We found that there is no detrimental effects of coffee on heart rhythm and, in fact, coffee at up to three cups per day may be protective,” he said.

 

Protective?  That sounds like terrific news!  It is always nice to find out that something that is so enjoyable, but which you have assumed is possibly unhealthy, turns out to be not only safe but good for you also, reducing, to a small extent, episodes of atrial  fibrillation.

 

 Kistler’s group found that, among more than 228,000 patients, drinking coffee cut the frequency of episodes of atrial fibrillation by 6 percent. A further analysis of nearly 116,000 patients found a 13 percent risk reduction.

One cup of coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine and acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system.

Caffeine also blocks adenosine, a chemical that can trigger atrial fibrillation, Kistler explained.

 

This study did, however, go on to recommend that people with heart arrhythmias avoid caffeinated energy drinks.  Furthermore, people who are sensitive to caffeine, should still avoid coffee.  Again there are certain people who identify caffeine is a trigger for atrial fibrillation and those individual should, by no means, return to drinking coffee.

 

Please comment with respect to your experiences with coffee, energy drinks, and atrial fibrillation.  Thanks!

The original study can be found here:

 Peter Kistler, MBBS, Ph.D., director, electrophysiology, Alfred Hospital and Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia; Byron Lee, M.D., professor, medicine, director, electrophysiology laboratories and clinics, University of California, San Francisco; April 16, 2018, JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology

Whatever Happened to AFIB Ultrarunner?

Sunrise at the start of an ultramarathon

So, whatever happened to “that one guy?” The one with the AFIB Ultrarunner blog?

When I decided to start this blog I had, of course, scanned the internet for similar blogs, and I found AFIB Ultrarunner. This was a somewhat short-lived but excellent 2010 blog by an unnamed man who was an ultrarunner, who like me, was dealing with atrial fibrillation (AF).

Afibultrarunner” was actually the name I originally chose for this blog, but it was taken so that’s okay, I’d be simply “afibrunner.”

I’m particularly interested in contacting him for two reasons.

First of all, at the time I was starting this blog I was personally just starting to train for ultras. In fact, I went into permanent AF right at the end of a twenty mile training run while trying to train for my first 50K.  I didn’t really know how to train so I was simply running a twenty mile trail run every weekend and I truly loved those long, slow training runs; but evidently that wasn’t a good idea given what happened!

Second of all the AFIB Ultrarunner guy had had an ablation, and has an excellent description of his experience. I have never had an ablation and likely never will (I’ve been told my chances at success are poor) and wanted to find out how he did on a long term basis. At this point I’d really like to find somebody to write about the experience for this blog – but I’ve never been able to find out who he is or how to contact him.

His blog is excellent and ends, I think, on a very sad note:

My cardiac procedure was painful or uncomfortable in constantly new ways for 20 hours.  I think I took it

pretty well, but at the time I thought that that day would be amongst the worst in my life, as in up

there with losing a spouse, child or dying yourself (although this just might be my inexperience with death speaking.)  Also I tried two drugs and nothing worked. Also my condition effects my day to day life more, such as it is now harder to carry dog food from the car without an attack, and my running has suffered.

Lets hope 2011 has more adventure running, and less heart problems.

 

And that was the end. I’m curious. How’s he doing now? Still running? Still dealing with AF? Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore – he is a little secretive about his identity, although there is a photo of him during a 50 mile race but there’s no contact info. A fifty mile race while dealing with AF – not too shabby!

Hey, man, if you’re out there let me know!

Alcohol, Athletes, and Atrial Fibrillation

Alcohol, Athletes, and Atrial Fibrillation

 

Beer drinking with my buddies at Marster Springs Campground

Does alcohol cause atrial fibrillation (AF)?

We’ve been reading for years that a glass of wine or two can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke; and it’s pretty clear if you’ve been hanging around at the finish lines of marathons, ultras, and long distance bicycling events that endurance athletes like to drink alcohol. Also, some studies have shown that endurance athletes have up to a five-fold increase risk of AF

So . . . is alcohol consumption a risk factor for endurance athletes dealing with AF?

Uhh . . . yeah.

Drinking alcohol frequently raises the likelihood of developing AF,  and more alcohol means more risk. One to three drinks (considered to be “moderate drinking”) increases the chances of AF, and “heavy drinking” (four or more drinks per day) increases the odds even more. It’s been suggested that every extra daily drink increases the risk by 8%!

Even if you aren’t a daily drinker so-called binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a day, also increases the chances of AF. (Some call it “binge drinking,” I might call it any weekend during my college years!)

Typical weekend from my college days

So how much alcohol is safe? Once you’ve been diagnosed with AF one or two drinks per day is probably safe, but three or more may be likely to trigger an episode. Also – make sure you figure out how much alcohol is one drink – a standard glass of wine versus a large glass of wine. A bottle of American light beer is going to be less alcohol than a bottle of craft brew IPA or stout.

My personal advice is that once you are diagnosed with AF the best move would be to quit alcohol altogether. That’s what I did. But consider that this advice is coming from a guy who is in permanent AF.

A very helpful WebMD article advises that even with moderate drinking you should avoid drinking every day: 

Even if you drink moderately, experts suggest you take a few days off from drinking alcohol every week.

  • Limit yourself to one to two drinks a day.
  • Try to have 2 to 3 alcohol-free days every week.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have an episode of AFib within an hour of drinking alcohol.

 

Exactly how does alcohol increase the chances of AF?

It isn’t clear why, but it is thought that hit might be related to increasing vagal tone. The more alcohol you drink, the higher the vagal tone. Another idea is that dehydration caused by alcohol triggers AF. A lot of people with AF know that alcohol can trigger their AF. Let’s face it – alcohol is basically a toxin with some pleasant side effects.

If you already are being treated for AF alcohol can interfere with the treatment – increase blood pressure, interact with anticoagulants, etc.

What is “Holiday Heart”?

Basically it is a nickname for the way heavy drinking around the holidays, so called “binge drinking” can trigger AF. According to Medscape:

Holiday heart syndrome most commonly refers to the association between alcohol use and rhythm disturbances, particularly supraventricular tachyarrhythmias in apparently healthy people. Similar reports have indicated that recreational use of marijuana may have corresponding effects.

 

The most common rhythm disorder is atrial fibrillation, which usually converts to normal sinus rhythm within 24 hours. Holiday heart syndrome should be particularly considered as a diagnosis in patients without structural heart disease and with new-onset atrial fibrillation.  Although the syndrome can recur, its clinical course is benign, and specific antiarrhythmic therapy is usually not indicated. Interestingly, even modest alcohol intake can be identified as a trigger in some patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. 

Finally – what is meant by “Drinker’s Heart” (a.k.a “beer drinker’s heart”)?

That’s cardiomyopathy, a serious disease of the heart muscle, related to chronic heavy drinking. Don’t let it happen to you. It’s bad.

 

beerMPG

I would love to have any readers with comments post them below. I’d love to hear from  athlete’s with atrial fibrillation who have had experience with alcohol as a trigger. Thanks for reading.

 

Endurance Sports and Atrial Fibrillation – WHY?

Endurance Sports and Atrial Fibrillation – WHY?

starting a long run on the local PCT. We saw a bear that day – fun.

Exercise is supposed to be good for you, good for your heart, right? Then why is that endurance athletes have two to ten times the rate of developing atrial fibrillation compared to “normal” people? Is a little or moderate exercise good but excessive exercise bad? As an endurance athlete (marathons, trail running, long distance mountain and road biking) who has permanent atrial fibrillation (AF) I would certainly like to understand “WHY?”

There is a terrific article on Europace entitled Endurance Sport Practice as a Risk Factor for Atrial Fibrillation and Atrial Flutter . By internet standards it’s a long read but I will review it here.

The studies aren’t large, and male athletes predominate – but it is clear that endurance athletes have, as mentioned above – 2 to 10 times the likelihood of developing AF. It is not actually known why but it is thought that ectopic atrial beats, chronic inflammation, and larger atrial size are all risk factors.

Personally – the story checks out – I started having runs of “premature atrial contractions” years before ever going into AF, and because endurance athletes train more frequently and tend to avoid rest the atria are chronically inflamed, which leads to fibrosis (scarring) of the atrial muscle. And of course my left atrium has been severely enlarged for decades – not as much because of sports but because I had previously had mitral regurgitation (repaired surgically 1994 but the atrium never shrunk back to normal).

But even without the mitral valve issues endurance athletes tend to have enlarged atria. And we don’t rest enough leading to inflammation and scarring. The Europace article cites several studies that link long term endurance sports with AF, compared to sedentary individuals.

Moderate exercise may actually protect against AF.

Ringo after a long run – Fremont Trail

The Europace article also cites studies that show a correlation with “occupational physical activity” and AF – meaning people that have difficult, physically demanding jobs are also in the same boat as endurance athletes.

I didn’t know this – there is also a higher rate of AF related to how tall a person is – damn! I’m 6’3” (or 6’4” – depending on what year was measured.)

The article discusses, speculates, as to the mechanism of AF in the athlete’s heart but much of this is a bit technical for this blog. Feel free to explore the article if you are curious.

The typical clinical profile of sport-related AF or atrial flutter is a middle-aged man (in his forties or fifties) who has been involved in regular endurance sport practice since his youth (soccer, cycling, jogging, and swimming), and is still active. This physical activity is his favourite leisure time activity and he is psychologically very dependent on it. 

Interestingly the AF rarely occurs during running:

They almost never occur during exercise. This makes the patient reluctant to accept a relationship between the arrhythmia and sport practice, particularly since his physical condition is usually very good. The crises typically become more frequent and prolonged over the years and AF becomes persistent. Progression to permanent AF has been described by Hoogsteen et al .

Again, for me, the story checks out. I certainly recall long episodes of palpitations at rest that I now can identify as AF – until the day when it became (dreaded) permanent AF!

The article suggests that abstinence from sports is helpful for athletes having episodes of AF, although it isn’t curative. The problem, as any endureance athletes knows, is that it is nearly impossible to get us to give up our long runs, bike rides, etc.

Other therapeutic measures are also discussed – but that is a talk that is best left to the runner and the cardiologist.

Although ablation seems to be quite effective, endurance sport cessation associated with drug therapy seems to us a more suitable approach as an initial therapy, particularly in non-professional, veteran athletes.

To conclude I’m just going to quote their conclusions right here:

Vigorous physical activity, whether related to long-term endurance sport practice or to occupational activities, seems to increase the risk for recurrent AF. The underlying mechanisms remain to be elucidated, although structural atrial changes (dilatation and fibrosis) are probably present. There is a relationship between accumulated hours of practice and AF risk. Further studies are needed to clarify whether a threshold limit for the intensity and duration of physical activity may prevent AF, without limiting the cardiovascular benefits of exercise.

I’d be interested in others opinions and experiences with these issues. Reading this article was a little emotional for me – like I said – the story checks out! I guess that if I knew what I know now I might have cut down a little on the endurance sports before I was forced to do so by permanent AF. Truly, for me, a day long run with my dog, on a trail, in a local wilderness area was the most enjoyable thing I can imagine. And at this point it isn’t even the AF preventing me from still doing it – it’s the  high dose of beta blocker I take for rate control – really takes the wind out of my sails.

 

 

“C’mon Boss, let’s go for a trail run!”